Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

NM government breaks public's trust once again

In 2003, the New Mexico Legislature

adopted the Voter Action Act, providing for public financing of campaigns for the powerful Public Regulation Commission. It was intended to improve PRC elections by offering candidates the option of funding their campaigns with public money rather than soliciting and accepting contributions from some of the same corporate interests they would be regulating if elected.

It’s unlikely lawmakers envisioned a candidate using the cash — generated by fees assessed on companies the PRC regulates — to pay himself and his fiancee almost $20,000 and some of his PRC staff members $2,400 for campaign work and expenses.

And it’s unlikely the utilities, limo and cab services and telecommunications companies expected that the fees collected from them under the act would go directly into the pocket of a sitting commissioner or his PRC staff.

But all Commissioner Ben Hall of Ruidoso, who is running for re-election and paying himself using public funding, can say is, “What is the big damn deal?”

Let’s lay it out for him and voters in PRC District 5.

Hall, who makes $90K a year on the PRC, paid himself and his fiancee, Maria Cottom, $25 an hour for attending meet and greets, candidate forums and for removing his primary campaign signs, according to his campaign-finance reports filed with the Secretary of State’s Office.

He also cited lodging, fuel and meal expenses — though several meals were in Santa Fe, which is outside the district for which he is campaigning but is where the PRC is located, and Ruidoso, where Hall lives.

Hall told Albuquerque Journal investigative reporter Thomas J. Cole, “If I didn’t hire and pay myself, I would have to hire someone else.” OK, but by definition the candidate is usually expected to be at a campaign meet and greet or forum, and not on the public dime. And who makes $25 an hour picking up used campaign signs?

Somebody who already makes $90,000 a year in tax dollars, apparently.

Hall has received nearly $68,000 in public funds to finance his campaign and burned through more than $52,000 as of Oct. 6. The payments to himself and his fiancee amount to almost 30 percent of the take — $19,058.

The Secretary of State’s Office in a letter to Hall on Wednesday gave him five days to explain whether he has paid himself for campaigning.

The letter states that “Permissible expenditures for any campaign, whether publicly financed or not, do not include candidates paying themselves an hourly wage or salary for time spent campaigning.”

Hall maintains no laws have been broken, and he has five days to prove he’s right.

But even if Hall somehow finds a way not to have to return the money to his campaign, once again in New Mexico the public’s trust in its system of governance has certainly been broken.

— Albuquerque Journal